Sometimes the greatest artists just need to vent some weirdness, regardless of who they confuse or exasperate along the way, in order to develop. Whether it was Dylan’s much derided patchwork ‘Self Portrait’ coming before his acclaimed ‘New Morning’ revival, or, perhaps more aptly, Lou Reed’s free’n’easy classic ‘Coney Island Baby’ following the bewildering industrial drone of ‘Metal Machine Music’, experimentation has often been followed by resolution.
Parquets Courts last two releases have had critics similarly scratching their heads and cautiously speculating about exactly what would come next. Despite its moments, ‘Content Nausea’, released in 2014 under a thinly veiled alias, was a bizarre collection of disparate sounds, even including a droll cover version of ‘These Boots Are Made for Walkin’’. Their mostly instrumental ‘Monastic Living’ EP which followed last year was no less perplexing.
With ‘Human Performance’ the group finally deliver on almost two years worth of abstruseness. The album opener, ‘Dust’, is an invigorating breath of musty air, complete with a sweeping drum track and razor-sharp guitar lines and synths. The record’s production value is consistently crisp, and the lush guitar twang of ‘Berlin Got Blurry’, subtle vibraphone of ‘Captive of the Sun’, and flute detour of the title track prove how much musical breadth this allows. There’s depth to the lyrics as well. The title track is an evocative and oddly addictive eulogy to lost love and loneliness, while ‘Two Dead Cops’ is a frenetic critique of police violence.
This album is certainly not without edgier moments. The crooked stomp of ‘I Was Just Here’ is a violent shake by the shoulders, particularly coming after the three catchy numbers which begin the album. The angular dynamics of ‘Paraphrased’ also recalls ‘Slanted and Enchanted’-era Pavement at their most erratic.
Another huge influence on this record is The Velvet Underground, perhaps elucidating why these Texas transplants felt like New York was their spiritual home in the first place. The ghost of Lou Reed haunts the disjointed free-form guitar runs of ‘One Man, No City’, recalling the heyday of Velvet’s classics like ‘All Tomorrows Parties’ and ‘Run Run Run’.
This album also deflects the obvious reference points in many places, however. ‘Outside’ and ‘Berlin got Blurry’ are more Elvis Costello than Lou Reed, ‘It’s Gonna Happen’ and ‘Keep It Even’ are more Adam Green than Pavement, the jolting ‘I Was Just Here’ is more Captain Beefheart than Tom Waits, and yet ‘Steady on My Mind’ is so Velvet Underground it’ll have you checking the album art for a Warhol credit.
Nodding to lo-fi, new-wave and proto-punk, this album compounds decades of musical history into some of this group’s most memorable tunes to date, with a few jarring experiments thrown in for good measure.
‘Human Performance’ is out now via Rough Trade.
This Parquet Courts review was written by Tadgh Sheils, a GIGsoup contibutor. Edited by Stephen Butchard. Header photo by Ben Reyner.